Will The New Year Be Better?

From the Newsletter:

As we turn our calendars to 2021, we’re all hopeful that we’ve crossed over some invisible line from a place of desperate isolation to a better place, where normal life resumes. There are many positive signs, beyond the simple change of a zero to a one on the calendar. We have a new president. There’s a vaccine on the horizon. Some friends of mine are so hopeful that they’ve already purchased plane tickets for a summer vacation. I’m not quite ready for plane tickets yet. 

While I long for normality and fanaticize about wearing beautiful dresses and jewelry and strappy shoes to parties and events, I am deeply concerned about the upcoming chaos. I’m a former political science professor, so I all I can see is the lack of bureaucratic infrastructure to oversee a massive vaccination program. 

Before the pressures of family life forced me to leave academia, I taught political science courses at several colleges. There, I taught my students that the relationship between the federal government and the states has shifted over time. The federal government, with the strong leadership of a president, has always stepped in when the nation was in a period of a national crisis like a war or a depression. When the country was out of work and starving during the 1930s, FDR hired artists and engineers to build and decorate buildings and bridges all over the country. When the states could not agree on how to handle the horrors of slavery, Lincoln did not say, “hell, figure it out yourselves.” 

Strong leadership in DC has been missing during this pandemic. This year, we needed someone to make decisions, and hard ones, about what programs and services should remain open and how we could safely provide government supports to vulnerable populations. We needed uniform, science-based rules and decisions from a centralized government. But Trump passed those decisions along to the states, which were not equipped to make those decisions. Some state legislatures are, after all, still run by part-time, low paid policy makers; legislators in places like Nevada might be farmers every other year. Without strong state governments, decisions were passed on to localities, where some mayor or town administrator made the hard choices that were passed on by presidents, congressmen, governors, and state legislators. 

Let’s not forget that schools are a government bureaucracy. Teachers and therapists tell me that they were forced to figure out remote instruction entirely on their own by reading posts from other teachers on Instagram, because there was no guidance from the state or even their central office in their town. District administrators – who have been trained for education, not health – are opening and closing schools based on their own random calculus. Our country in New Jersey, which is comprised of dozens of school districts, has no uniform policy; so some schools are open, others are closed.

What a failure of government. 

Then I’m hearing stories about how the vaccine programs are unrolling in ways that are unfair, random, and inefficient. In some hospitals, office staff is getting vaccinated before their ER staff that deals with COVID patients every day, because the office staff has the time to sit in front of the computer all day to sign up for a vaccination appointment, while the ER workers are too busy saving people’s lives. There are long lines outside of clinics in Florida, which has chosen to vaccinate the old people first. 

We have lots of unanswered questions, like if teachers are deemed to be essential workers and given priority, will that mean that they’ll return to the classroom for in-person education? Will adults with disabilities, like Down syndrome, be given vaccination priority? 

These are questions that can, and should be, answered. We need to build a huge, and temporary, government infrastructure to handle the pandemic. We need to keep government functioning, so that schools can open and social services can resume. We need to make sure that the vaccination roll out happens fairly and efficiently. 

I’m hopeful that a new administration will provide the central administration that is so desperately needed right now. And I’m hopeful that I’ll soon be hugging my mother and dancing on the rooftop of a very tall building in Manhattan. 

Be well, my friends!